“We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost.” – Rush, “Bravado”
Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal could spark a major reset of foreign relations. Is this a mistake or the right course of action?
That depends on your perspective. It depends on whether you believe, as the Israelis do, that Iran is ready to build a nuclear weapon to point at them.
But the bigger question to me is whether Trump is willing to put on the table what he needs to get what he wants, a secure Israel and an Iran without nukes. Tearing up the deal may be the first step towards that end, but not in the way he’s thinking.
Where’s the Beef?
Now, thousands of column inches have been spilled detailing how inordinately stupid it would be for either Israel or Iran to lob nukes at one another. No matter who starts it, the ending will be tragic for much of the world.
So, no sane person would do this right? The narrative has been spun up that Israel is rational and Iran is not. Pure and simple. That’s the narrative. That justifies taking away Iran’s ultimate right to defend itself against aggression from foreign powers.
Both sides of this conflict can rightly point fingers at the other as to their adventures beyond their own borders. And here I break with my libertarian brethren. It does little good today to say who is more justified. To argue about who started it. Because we are well beyond that point.
So, what does Donald Trump want? What’s his main beef with the JCPOA?
The sunset clause.
He wants a guarantee in writing from Iran to forever stop development of a nuclear weapon. Israel has been pushing for this policy point since the end of the Iran/Iraq war, which is where all of this likely started.
Iran, in response to Saddam Hussein’s own tactical nuclear weapons development, began work on theirs. After this the whole thing gets murky. But, let’s assume that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right about one thing; that Iran is year or two away from a nuclear weapon.
So, to Trump the sunset clause is moronic.
And, rightly so. But, that’s not the whole story.
The Price of the Deal
Now let’s go back to 2012. The U.S. and its partners – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey – begin the regime change operation in Syria.
We use the financial equivalent of a nuclear strike, cutting them from the SWIFT electronic payment network. We freeze hundreds of billions in Iranian assets.
The U.S. cuts Iran out of the global financial system to effect regime change. The Iranian Rial devalues 50% overnight.
Syria’s biggest ally other than Russia is neutralized through financial warfare.
Nuclear weapons are only effective as a deterrent to behavior. They cannot actually be used. Obama’s first mistake was going to this option weaponizing SWIFT. We’d used it successfully on Switzerland in 2010 to hunt down tax evaders. But everyone watching this play out knew it was a bad idea.
I remember Jim Sinclair saying this over and over again. You can’t go to the nuclear well. Because if it doesn’t work, you have nothing left to threaten anyone with. Financial wars eventually become hot wars.
In short, Iran survived, with the help of a lot of people, including Turkey who altered its banking regulations to re-monetize gold as a bank asset to help Iran process international oil payments through Turkish banks.
Now, fast forward to 2015. The Syria operation is nearly over. Assad is hanging on by a thread.
The Sunni animals we used as proxies were about to take power.
Hezbollah would be isolated in Lebanon. Russia’s access to the Mediterranean would be blocked, especially after thwarting our attempt to take Sevastopol and Crimea.
Negotiating a deal to let Iran back into the world market had little downside. In fact, at that point, opening up Iran to international capital would hasten the overthrow of the theocracy.
U.S. and European oil contractors wanted access to Iran. With Syria destroyed, pipelines coming in from Saudi Arabia and Qatar through Turkey into Europe would hurt Gazprom and Russia.
At that point letting Iran back into the world would have been a win for the West. Isolated and alone, with radical Sunnis in power all through the region Iran would never become the kind of power that could threaten Israeli and Saudi dominance.
So, the JCPOA was a pantomime. Iran agrees to a moratorium on nuclear development it may or may not have been engaging in and in return, it gets sanctions relief and its stolen assets returned.
If Syria fell to the Wahabists then Iran would need that nuclear capability to defend itself. So, getting that moratorium in writing, the thinking likely went, would be enough because in 10 years the current Iranian government wouldn’t exist.
The threat would be moot.
Looking at it this way, 10 years was as good as forever.
The Bear Trap
Now, here’s the rub. In July of 2015 when the deal was being finalized, were Iran and Russia negotiating the sunset clause in ‘bad faith’ because they knew Putin would militarily intervene in Syria three months later?
If so, then I fully understand the frustration coming from Israel and the U.S., particularly Trump. It’s a bad deal because the sunset clause solves nothing permanently. The return of Iranian capital has allowed them to support winning the war in Syria.
But, at the end of the day, that’s Monday morning quarterbacking. The Obama administration and the entire geopolitical sphere didn’t expect Russia to intervene militarily, and if they did they would be bogged down in a nightmarish quagmire.
That was the thinking in 2015.
Trump’s analysis of this situation is that the JCPOA got the U.S. nothing but heartache and Iran won the deal. But, this was an outcome no one expected. No one expected Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and China to stand up to the U.S. in Syria.
Maybe Netanyahu, but I doubt it.
And if you think that Iran’s money has been the game changer I say nonsense. The real financial backer of Assad has been the silent partner, China.
China threatened to send troops into Syria in an uncharacteristic display of partisanship. They ultimately didn’t, but don’t take that to mean they haven’t provided a lot of soft support to those fighting in Syria.
The rest, after that, is history. And the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia have been scrambling ever since.
This Syrian Cross
Syria is the U.S.’s Rubicon.
It’s the line we should have never crossed. To win we engaged in tactics and strategies that laid bare to the world the depth of our foreign policy depravity.
Moreover, it exposed us as far weaker than was previously thought. Iran’s successful resistance to the 2012 sanctions, no matter how painful, created responses that today have changed the game completely.
The emperor is only powerful as long as no one challenges his authority. First the mullahs, then Putin, then Xi and now Kim. They have all defied the U.S. and won to some extent and each small victory exposes a little bit more of the emperor’s nudity.
The Syrian Operation has failed in any geopolitical sense of the term. The basic goal of removing Assad and isolating Iran and Hezbollah were not achieved. Russia is stronger, with operational experience for its troops using some of its best weapons against U.S.-backed forces.
When an operation like this fails those that instigated it wind up losing the most. Qatar and Turkey cut bait in 2016. Any support from Egypt is also gone.
But the U.S., Israel and the Saudis are pot-committed. And so now they have to salvage what they can. And that means getting rid of the deal to regain some control over the situation.
But, Syria and Afghanistan will be the U.S. empire’s graveyard. I only hope that Trump gets past his blind hatred of Iran to see this clearly after he pulls out of the JCPOA.
What Can Trump Salvage?
By tearing up the JCPOA Trump is trying to force the situation back to 2012 to gain some leverage. But, it’s 2018. Oil prices are $70 a barrel, which the Saudis desperately need. The EU is teetering on the edge of political and financial collapse.
Russia survived the ruble crisis and China is the world’s largest economy from a purchasing-power-parity perspective (the only perspective with any validity). Both have SWIFT-compliant internal financial communications networks that can assist Iran if sanctions are put back on.
Hell, there are blockchains out there that can help Iran get paid for its oil.
The EU signatories want to continue the deal and could very well defy Trump on this, not adhering to new sanctions.
Today, Trump tries to force wins on trade policy that will only destroy global trade and harm U.S. producers in the long run. He wants a guarantee from Iran that they will remain without nukes to threaten Israel or Saudi Arabia with.
It’s a noble goal.
He won’t get that without giving up something substantial. Obama traded Iran’s money back to them, which he stole, for a moratorium on nuclear development at a time when he felt the U.S. was winning on every front. He gave up little to get what looked like a lot at the time.
Again, was this a classic Russian cauldron? Invite your enemy in, let them over-extend themselves and then encircle? Possibly. We’ll only know after Putin retires and writes his memoirs.
Today the deal looks like the reverse. Obama gave up everything for nothing solid. But, given what he was willing to put on the table that was all he was going to get.
When Trump tears up this deal to negotiate a new one he’s going to sell Iran and Russia the same false value that Obama did in 2015. The U.S. will give up trying to oust Assad if you guarantee to never develop nukes.
But, that deal is a non-starter. Because the U.S. will eventually be routed from Syria lest we move to a hot war with Russia, which no one wants.
The U.S. has to swear off regime change by removing its troops from both Syria and Afghanistan as a starting point and guaranteeing that the Saudis never get nuclear weapons. Iran may also demand Israel finally sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I’m sure that deal is a non-starter as well.
But, our military commitments in these places is gutting the U.S. budget. Trump thinks that he can pull a Reagan and grow his way out of the deficits he’s encumbering us with. But, he can’t. The situation is too dire. We’re not at the beginning of the dollar reserve standard, we’re at the end of it.
So, Russia, China and Iran will all hold their water and negotiate knowing that the war of financial attrition is theirs to win.
Just like it was in 2012. And, deal or no deal, the bigger threat to the U.S. is the further deterioration of diplomatic respect we have with the rest of the world.
Since taking office all Trump’s done is betray his base by doubling down in Afghanistan, striking Syria over false flags, selling weapons to Ukraine and further entrenching us in a nightmarish war in Yemen.
None of these things screams ‘no regime change.’
They all scream war with Iran which has been his position since day one. The Koreas are forcing his hand on peace there over the objections of his foreign policy team.
So, if this is his way of keeping a foreign policy promise to his base, to satisfy them politically before the mid-terms, he has only himself to blame. No matter how much he tries to blame Obama.
This whole affair highlights the most important axiom about war, ‘the only way to win is not to play.’
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